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Don't wind me up....

Rather sad to hear this week of the death of Trevor Bayliss, the British inventor most well-known for the invention of the clockwork radio. He was a true British eccentric, and as such I had a large soft spot for him.

Many of the obituaries of Trevor Bayliss have focussed on his financial troubles. The implication in the press has been that patents aren't all that they're cracked up to be, possibly not worth the time and effort, and so on - this BBC obituary notes that his inventions 'failed to make his fortune', and that 'the costs of getting a patent were prohibitive'.

But Trevor Bayliss himself had a rather different relationship with Intellectual Property than is suggested. He wasn't happy that his products got ripped off, but as outlined in this article from 2013, he was actually pretty keen on patents and other IP - he wanted more robust protection to be more easily available, he wanted more governmental financial support to be available, and he even went as far as to lobby for patent infringement to be a criminal, rather than a civil, offence (steady on, old chap....).

Patents aren't cheap, and patent enforcement can be expensive. However, it's rather more likely that his financial troubles were due to the difficulties of commercialising a good idea, rather than the patents being a terminal drain on his profits. As at least one of the obituary articles have noted, there were copycat radios on the market that rather easily managed to circumvent his original patents by adding a rechargeable battery. Another article notes that another well-known British inventor, James Dyson, "is...unique, being able to both invent and do business" - so it's known to be a somewhat uncommon combination.

His clockwork radio idea only became successful after he was featured on the BBC programme 'Tomorrow's World' (and a rather sad 2003 RIP to that, too). Until then, he had struggled to generate interest and get noticed, which might be rather more relevant to the question of success than the cost of a patent. Also, as noted above, his original patents were rather easily circumvented, and, reading between the lines, it's possible that they were not necessarily drafted as robustly as they could have been (adding a battery is a rather simple design-around that should possibly still have been caught within the scope of a well-drafted claim).

Bringing a new product to market is difficult, this is true. But that is not necessarily, or even often or mostly, the fault of the patent system. Companies and business networks have an inherent inertia and conservatism that creates an inherent passively hostile environment for new ideas and products. The inventor needs to be aware of this and work to overcome it.

As I've written before, patents and Intellectual Property will support an end goal (i.e. product to market...PROFIT!), but they aren't a magic money tree in and of themselves. It's 'boots on the ground' that will win the fight, not your support tools.

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